Choosing a Camera

Achieving the film look is no easy task. And choosing the right camera is the first step to get you on the right track. In this segment, we discuss camera components and different types of cameras, including camcorders, DSLRs and digital cinema cameras.

Video Transcript

Achieving the film look is no easy task. And choosing the right camera is the first step to get you on the right track.
In this segment, we'll discuss camera components and different types of cameras, including camcorders, DSLR's, and digital cinema cameras.

For a long time, the divide between film cameras used in Hollywood, and the consumer cameras used at home was nearly insurmountable. But innovations in camera technologies has narrowed the gap considerably. To understand how to choose a camera to achieve the film look, it's important to review the components that make up the camera itself.
Lenses, sensors, resolution and frame rates are all important factors to consider before making a choice.
If you ask most professionals what makes film look so unique, shallow depth of field is sure to be at the top of the list. Understanding how a camera lens works can help you choose a camera that can achieve that coveted look, and understanding f-stops is a great place to start. So just what does the term f-stop mean?
Camera lenses have an iris inside to change the size of the opening. The f-number is the focal length of the lens divided by the diameter of the lens opening. For example, If the iris opening of a lens is 10 millimeters and its focal length is 20 millimeters then the f-number is 2. the F number gives us a universal measure of the brightness of the image.
Image brightness is inversely proportional to the f-number. Larger numbers mean smaller openings that produce darker images, while smaller numbers represent larger openings which produces brighter images.
So how does this relate to getting the film look? Shooting at lower f-stops will result in a more shallow depth of field. So when choosing a camera, it's important to take the f-stop of a lens into consideration.
Another critical element to understanding lenses is focal length. focal length is the Distance from a camcorder's lens to the sensor with the lens focused on infinity.
Short focal lengths offer a wide field of view, while longer focal lengths offer a narrow field of view.
Prime lenses have a focal length that is not adjustable. An advantage to using a prime lens is that they typically offer lower f-stops, and therefore are much more adept at capturing images with a shallow depth of field.
But if you're planning on using prime lenses, you'll need to have an array of lenses with different focal lengths in order to get the shots you need, and the cost of lenses can be cost-prohibitive.
Zoom lenses have a variable focal length, allowing you to change your point of focus, without moving the camera. While zoom lenses cover various focal lengths and eliminate the need for multiple lenses, you'll have to sacrifice those low f-stops, which can limit your ability to get shallow depth of field.
Once the light passes through the lens on the camera it hits a sensor, which converts light into electrons. There are two main types of sensors in most video cameras today.
CCD, or charge-coupled device, and CMOS or complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor.
CCD's are manufactured using a proprietary method that produces high quality sensors. Video Camera's use 3 chips to record red, green and blue separately. The information from the 3 chips is then sent to a separate image processor to combine the three signals into a color video image.
CCD's have a reputation for creating high-quality, low-noise images, but use a considerable amount of power, and are more expensive to produce. For this reason, you're not likely to find these sensors on less expensive cameras.
Newer and cheaper CMOS chips bundle both an image sensor and image processor into a single chip. While these sensors are usually more susceptible to noise, they are cheaper to produce, and use less power, making them extremely popular in less expensive cameras.
Sensors vary in size, and larger sensors result in crisper images, with less noise, especially when shooting in low light situations.
Resolution is also a key factor when considering which camera can get you to the film look.
Resolutions can range from 720 pixels wide all the way up to 4k images that come in at an astounding 4096 pixels wide.
As a general rule, more resolution is always a better option, but it's important to consider what the final output of your project will be. Unless you plan on screening your project in a theater, the lower resolutions can be sufficient.
Film is traditionally shot at 24 frames per second, and having the option to select frame rates is an important factor to consider when selecting a camera to achieve the film look.
Choosing a camera that can shoot 24 progessive frames per second will go a long way to getting your video to look more like film, without having to convert your footage.
The ability to shoot 60 frames per second is also desirable if you're planning on using slow motion shots in your project.
Now that you understand some of the key components of a video camera, we'll talk about the three main types of cameras available to video producers. Traditional Camcorders, DSLR's, and Digital cinema Cameras. Each has their own unique design and purpose.
Traditional camcorders are typically simple to operate. Most of models have fixed zoom lenses to make getting the shot easy, without moving around too much.
The major drawback of these camera's when attempting to achieve a film look is that it's difficult to achieve a shallow depth of field.
The explosion of DSLR's onto the scene has brought reasonably priced options to those looking to attain film-like footage for their project.
The ability to use prime lenses with low f-stops for low light shooting and shallow depth of field is a huge advantage over traditional video cameras.
But You'll need a greater understanding of photography basics in order to manipulate the f-stop, iso, and shutter speed to get the shot your looking for.
When it comes to dynamic range DSLR cameras truly shine. Many DSLR cameras have much larger sensors than camcorders that with similar costs, which allows for greater contrast and better color quality.
Digital Cinema Cameras have been fast becoming the trend for major hollywood films, and with their stunning capabilities to emulate film, it's no surprise.
Their extremely large sensors, lens options, and low compression ratios combine to record fantastic looking footage.
However, if you're not prepared to shell out a considerable amount of money on the camera and lenses, you'll find these camera's outside of your price range.
As we said before, achieving the film look is no easy task. But choosing the right camera can make a huge difference in getting you on your way. In our next segment, we'll discuss frame rates and interlacing. Understanding of those concepts will help further your efforts to make your video look like film.